What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is a phrase that is
becoming more widely used to describe natural health care systems,
practices and products. This fact sheet explains what CAM is, the
major types of CAM, and who provides these services in New Zealand.
What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine
What is Integrative Medicine?
What Are the Major Types of Complementary
and Alternative Medicine?
Who Provides CAM Services in
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)?
Complementary and alternative medicine is a group of diverse medical
and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently
considered to be part of conventional medicine. Other terms for complementary
and alternative medicine include unconventional, non-conventional,
unorthodox, natural medicine, natural therapies, holistic, and traditional
healing. The list of what is considered to be CAM changes continually,
as those therapies that are proven to be safe and effective become
adopted into conventional health care, and as new approaches to health
Conventional medicine is medicine as practiced
by GPs and by their allied health professionals, such as physical
therapists, psychologists, and registered nurses. Other terms for
conventional medicine include biomedicine, allopathy, Western, mainstream,
modern, orthodox, and regular medicine. Some conventional medical
practitioners are also practitioners of CAM.
The terms complementary and alternative are often used interchangeably,
when in fact they are two different therapeutic approaches.
Complementary medicine is used
together with conventional medicine. An example
of a complementary therapy is using aromatherapy to
help lessen a patient's discomfort following surgery.
Alternative medicine is used in
place of conventional medicine. An example of
an alternative therapy is using a special diet to treat
cancer instead of undergoing surgery, radiation, or
chemotherapy that has been recommended by a conventional
What is Integrative
Integrative medicine, also known as functional medicine, combines
mainstream medical therapies and CAM therapies for which there is
some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness.
It is used for:
• Managing symptoms
• Increasing wellness (quality of life, reported sense of wellbeing)
• Improving treatment efficacy
Basic Principles of Integrative Medicine
A partnership between patient and practitioner in the healing process
• Appropriate use of conventional and alternative methods to
facilitate the body's innate healing response
• Consideration of all factors that influence health, wellness
and disease, including mind, spirit and community as well as body
• A philosophy that neither rejects conventional medicine nor
accepts alternative medicine uncritically
• Recognition that good medicine should be based in good science,
inquiry driven and open to new paradigms
• Use of natural, less invasive interventions whenever possible
• The broader concepts of promotion of health and the prevention
of illness as well as the treatment of disease
• Practitioners as models of health and healing, committed
to the process of self-exploration and self-development
What Are the Major Types
of Complementary and Alternative Medicine?
There are five major categories, or domains:
1. Alternative Medical Systems
Alternative medical systems are built upon complete systems of theory
and practice. Often, these systems have evolved apart from, and
earlier than, the conventional medical approach. Examples of alternative
medical systems that have developed in Western cultures include homeopathic
medicine and naturopathic
medicine. Examples of systems that have developed in non-Western
cultures include traditional Chinese
medicine and Ayurveda.
2. Mind-Body Interventions
Mind-body medicine uses a variety of techniques designed to enhance
the mind's capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms. Some
techniques that were considered CAM in the past have become mainstream
(for example, patient support groups and cognitive-behavioural
therapy). Other mind-body techniques are still considered CAM,
Programming (NLP), hypnotherapy,
and therapies that use creative outlets such as art, music, or
3. Biologically Based Therapies
Biologically based therapies use substances found in nature, such
as herbs, foods, and vitamins. Some examples include dietary supplements
and herbal products. Many of these therapies overlap with conventional
medicine’s use of dietary supplements.
4. Manipulative and Body-Based Methods (Bodywork)
Manipulative and body-based methods are based on manipulation and/or
movement of one or more parts of the body. Some examples include chiropractic or osteopathic
manipulation, and massage.
5. Energy Therapies
Energy therapies involve the use of energy fields. There are two
Biofield therapies are intended to affect energy
fields that purportedly surround and penetrate the human body. The
existence of such fields has not yet been scientifically proven.
Some forms of energy therapy manipulate biofields by applying pressure
and/or manipulating the body by placing the hands in, or through,
these fields. Examples include qigong, reiki,
and therapeutic touch.
Bioelectromagnetic-based therapies involve the
unconventional use of electromagnetic fields, such as pulsed fields,
magnetic fields, or alternating-current or direct-current fields.
Who Provides CAM
Services in New Zealand?
The majority of CAM services (excluding the self-prescription of
products) are provided by CAM practitioners (natural health practitioners)
in private practice. These practitioners usually have some
training in one or more CAM modalities. Some CAM practitioners are
based in multidisciplinary clinics that may also offer mainstream
general practitioner (GP) services. Other practitioners operate
informally out of their own homes.
Some GPs practise CAM themselves, and some others refer patients
to CAM practitioners for treatment. Some other mainstream health
professionals, such as nurses and physiotherapists, also practise
CAM therapies and use them to treat their patients when appropriate.
Traditional healers, such as tohunga and fofo, may provide services
out of a combined practice (with GPs and other health professionals),
from private practices, from home, or by home visits.
Many health food stores and pharmacists provide advice on CAM products
such as vitamins, minerals, herbal remedies and homoeopathic medicines.
Many people self-prescribe CAM products without seeing a practitioner. This
can be in the home (using food products for medicinal purposes),
by purchasing products at the supermarket (such as vitamins, minerals
or herbal-based products) or by purchasing products from pharmacies
or health stores.
Traditional knowledge that has been passed down, often through the
family, is also frequently used to diagnose and treat conditions.
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